Cognitive Miscues Call For Investigative Precautions


  • Sarah Jane Starling DeSales University
  • Katherine Ramsland DeSales University


After a lifetime of observing the world around us and making decisions based on these observations, we gain the sense that we are skilled at seeing all the important details in our environment. The truth, however, is that a gap exists between what we are exposed to and what we notice. Another gap exists between what we notice and what we can later recall. Biases might also direct our attention or influence the weight we give to any piece of information. These limitations can cause us to miss important items and impair our ability to draw accurate conclusions. Although we may not notice these miscues in our everyday lives, they can become problematic, especially for investigators who rely on observation. We present the case of the “Pizza Bomber” as an example. This case demonstrates issues with observation, attentional limitations, memory, and the distortions of bias. We highlight several errors that occurred, identify their probable causes, and show their consequences. While these limitations and biases are natural, we offer suggestions to mitigate their negative impact.

Author Biographies

Sarah Jane Starling, DeSales University

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Department of Social Sciences

Katherine Ramsland, DeSales University

Professor of Psychology

Department of Social Sciences